MUSKOKA - Public elementary and secondary school teachers in Muskoka are “extremely displeased,” along with their counterparts across the province, following the passing of Bill 115 on Sept. 11. The bill, initiated by Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government and supported by the Conservatives, imposes wage freezes, unpaid holidays and halves sick days for Ontario teachers in an effort to reduce the province’s $15-billion debt.
"The government has made a mistake. The government has decided to vilify and victimize teachers for the fiscal financial situation they find themselves in... "
- Steve Colliver, president of the Trillium Lakelands Elementary Teachers Local
It also prohibits the teachers, whose previous contract expired on Aug. 31, from striking for a minimum of two years.
However, it is the government imposing this contract on teachers, effectively removing their collective bargaining rights, that is causing the most ire, said Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) Trillium Lakelands District president Peter Carroll.
“(Teachers) are extremely displeased,” said Carroll. “This is not primarily about any specific detail in any particular plan. It’s very much about the fact that we are entitled to have the right to bargain with the employer for a reasonable collective agreement.”
In retaliation to the passing of the bill, the OSSTF called for secondary teachers in the province to protest on Wednesday, Sept. 12, the day after the bill was passed, by refusing to lead extracurricular activities, such as sports teams and clubs, in schools.
“Teachers in the various schools and work sites throughout Muskoka participated fully in the OSSTF political action,” confirmed Carroll. “They participated by withdrawing on that particular day their voluntary services; in addition to that they were wearing black to mourn the loss of their collective bargaining rights.”
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has also asked its members to take part in action designed to protest the bill. Elementary teachers are being asked to withdraw from voluntary activities in the schools and, in what the federation has dubbed “McGuinty Mondays,” to also refrain from participating in any school meetings on Mondays.
“Both Trillium Lakeland MPPs are Tory and I want to make it clear that this is not just about the Liberal government,” added Steve Colliver, president of the Trillium Lakelands Elementary Teachers Local. “I was in the legislature on Tuesday (Sept. 11) and Mr. Miller (Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP) and Ms. Scott (Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP), both of whom represent Trillium Lakeland teachers, voted for this bill.”
“We’ve been calling for months for an across-the-board wage freeze for all public sector employees, including MPPs, and we think that’s a much fairer approach versus targeting one group,” explained Miller. “But having said that, this is a partial wage freeze for one group and we felt it’s … at least a partial movement in the right direction.”
“Teachers, quite frankly, are fiscally responsible and we’re part of society. We know we’ve got a deficit and we know we have to do our part,” said Colliver. “What the Tories wouldn’t do, in my humble opinion, is tweak it (Bill 115) the way it needed. What’s in the legislation is far more than a wage freeze. They strip our rights to bargain, they give the minister and cabinet the right to impose collective agreements. They take away the fundamental rights of teachers.”
Further protests at both the elementary and secondary levels are expected in the coming weeks, with the goal to regain teachers’ bargaining rights. This week, secondary school teachers wore black on Tuesday in recognition of it being one week since the passing of the bill. They will also be contacting their MPP, Norm Miller in Muskoka, to voice their displeasure over the MPP’s support of the bill. McGuinty Monday was in effect this week for elementary teachers and it is suggested they continue to withhold voluntary services, such as coaching sports teams, leading clubs, and planning concerts and other performances.
“I’m hoping that folks will recognize that this is not directed at parents, it’s not directed at kids and it’s not directed at our board,” explained Colliver. “It is directed squarely at the government. The government has made a mistake. The government has decided to vilify and victimize teachers for the fiscal financial situation they find themselves in and I’m really hoping that folks will recognize that and will actually take a look and say, ‘Hang on a second, is this even constitutional what they’ve done?’”
Though both teacher federations are urging all of their members to participate in the suggested actions, it is ultimately a personal decision by individuals as to whether they take part in the protests or not, said Colliver.
“I am not in a position to direct members to do anything,” admitted Colliver, although he added he expects most teachers to take part. “It’s a political protest. The message I have put out to members is silence is not golden … I’ve told folks tacit approval means business as usual and it can’t be business as usual.”
Locally, there is no word as to what extent teachers will honour the federations’ request for action, though off the record, teachers in Muskoka are saying they have never seen so much anger in the profession nor so much support from parents.
Trillium Lakeslands District School Board director of education Larry Hope said, though it is within teachers’ rights to withhold their voluntary commitments on school sports teams and clubs, he does not expect a large disruption in Muskoka.
“We believe that we have a good solid working relationship with all of our employee groups,” said Hope. “I’m convinced that our teachers will come to work and give 110 per cent to ensure that our students continue to get the very best education they can, that they will do everything they can to ensure that our students remain safe and that our schools are safe and caring and supportive environments for our kids to learn in.”